WARNING: The videos in this story shows body camera recordings of an officer shooting a suspect during a recent incident that some viewers may find disturbing.
ESCONDIDO, Calif. – Police on Thursday released surveillance and body-worn camera footage showing an Escondido officer fatally shooting a 59-year-old homeless man who had been accused of hitting cars with a metal pole.
Steven John Olson was pronounced dead at a local hospital after being shot multiple times by Officer Chad Moore just after 7 a.m. on April 21 near the intersection of Broadway and Second Avenue. The incident came following a 911 call reporting that a man later identified as Olson was striking vehicles with a crowbar in a parking lot near Second and Grand avenues.
In the video by the Escondido Police Department, police Chief Ed Varso said the nearly nine-minute audio and video presentation was prepared “to give our community a better understanding of the events surrounding an officer-involved shooting,” which resulted in Olson’s death.
“As we do with all uses of force, an internal review will be completed examining what, if any, improvements to existing policy and training should be made to further improve the outcomes of use of force encounters,” Varso said.
The video opens with a portion of the 911 call describing Olson’s appearance, clothing and approximate location to a police dispatcher. Surveillance video of the area shows Olson in a light colored shirt walking in a parking lot, but does not appear to capture him hitting any vehicles.
It picks up again with Escondido police Lt. Kevin Toth describing body-worn camera video of the first encounter with Olson by an Officer Martinez. Video shows Martinez approach Olson, who then was facing a dumpster away from him, saying, “Steven, Steven. Put the crowbar down, dude.”
Olson takes several steps toward Martinez where the video shows him carrying a 2-foot-long crowbar and a squeegee. Martinez repeats his request several times for Olson to put down the crowbar, to which Olson asks, “Which one?”
“The one in this hand. Put it down,” Martinez said. “Throw it down on the ground, dude.”
But Olson did not appear to put down either item, slowly backing away and then running.
“Olson displayed erratic behavior and he was speaking incoherently,” Toth said. “However, he displayed no threatening behaviors and he ultimately ran away.”
Officers decided not to pursue Olson, according to Toth. Instead, they stayed in the area to contact the 911 caller and gather more information.
Moore, who has been with the department since 2013, was en route to an unrelated burglary alarm when he encountered Olson walking in the roadway at Broadway and Second Avenue. Moore reportedly recognized Olson “as the subject described in the previous 911 call and he had numerous contacts with him in the past,” Toth said.
The first part of Moore’s body-worn camera video shows him addressing Olson over his police vehicle’s loudspeaker. This portion of the video is described by Toth with the video noting the first 30 seconds of Axon Cameras are on a recording loop and don’t include audio.
Moore then steps out of the vehicle and hits record on his body-worn camera. Footage shows Olson walking in Moore’s direction. Olson takes a peek into the police vehicle as Moore asks him to drop what he’s holding.
“Steven, you’re gonna get shot,” Moore said.
“I know and you’re gonna get hit,” Olson replied, as he continued to walk toward Moore with the crowbar in his right hand.
The video shows Moore repeating his warning to drop the item as he backs away from Olson. In all, Moore backed away some 65 feet and delivered several “use of force warnings” before firing seven rounds at Olson from roughly 7 feet away, Toth said.
“3K shots fired,” Moore says into his radio. “Suspect is down. Start medics. I am Code-4 (uninjured).”
Footage also shows officers rendering aid to Olson before he was taken to the hospital.
In a video released April 21, Varso noted that Olson was “well known” by the department with police arresting the man nearly 200 times since 2002 for assaults, drug charges and vandalism, among other alleged offenses. Toth added in Thursday’s video that Olson had been arrested four times in the past year for threatening people with deadly weapons, including a box cutter, a knife, a piece of metal and a stick.
He’d already been the subject of 21 radio calls for service this year, according to Toth.
“He was previously sent to prison for assault with a deadly weapon and served a prison term for that crime,” Toth said. “He has been placed on five mental health holds at local hospitals since 2015.”
An investigation into the fatal shooting is being conducted by the department’s Crimes of Violence unit. It also is expected to be reviewed by the San Diego County District Attorney’s office, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the FBI.